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When you think of a safety PSA, you can imagine a pretty straightforward, boring video. But that’s not how Melbourne Australia's Metro Trains was going to prevent train related accidents. No, they needed to go a diffferent route - and thus “The Many Dumb Ways to Die” campaign broke the mold of how public service annoucements educate audiences.
The year was 2012, and the conversation at Mcann, Metros ad agency, went something along the lines of “How the hell do people get hit by trains anyway? They travel in a straight line...that’s sooo dumb.”
It’s dumb to get hit by a train, just as much as it is to play with a bee hive or light your hair on fire. And so they wrote a hilarious jingle accompanied by an oddly funny to watch animated video of little jelly bean shaped characters dying morbid yet entertaining deaths
Right off the bat, there were two assets to play with: A video and a song. But Mcann was smarter than that. They also created a bunch of GIFs from the animated video for easy to share “memes” if you will.
And so the plan was simple: Leak the video to one trusted journalist, share the GIFs with a bunch of early adopters via Tumbler, and then sit back and watch viral in action. The campaign (video, song, GIFs) was launched and by the time the wekend was over, Dumb Ways to Die was on Reddits front page, the views were coming in, the social media buzz was ablaze and Mcann and Metro said… nothing. No bragging to media, no aggressive response campaign. It was hands off. To the extent that all over the world, people were making parodies, translating the song and more. The video would be viewed by tens of millions of viewers in the first couple weeks of the campaign! This kind of hands off approach is rare and should be applauded
The video was so popular worldwide, Metro decided to expand to train station public posters and billboards, a children’s book, and created a mobile game to further push the Dumb Ways to Die message.
Look at these numbers!
But was the campaign effective you ask? Great question!
Metro Trains found a 21% reduction in train station incidents. While it is hard to attribute this result directly to the campaign as there are many other factors that contribute to train related accidents, it is a positive statistic that does help argue that the campaign had been effective. Metro did report that they had a goal to get 10,000 “pledges” from Melbourne citizens not to be “dumb” around trains. They received 90 million. I wonder what stats other Metros’ around the globe saw after this campaign - that would be an interesting indicator as well.
We have to give props to creativity and authenticity here. Mcann and Metro broke stereotypes of what you can expect from a PSA and dared to be different. Iit paid off. “Don’t be dumb” became a catch phrase that would play a role in railway safety around the world.
I like the fact that they let the world judge the video on its own. By not tampering with social media after launch, they allowed their message to stay authentic and true. I think it’s an interesting strategy considering some of the other brands we’ve seen who included community interaction as a staple part of their campaign.
I really like their multi-channel and multimedia approach here. Not relying solely on one social media channel but allowing growth through multiple platforms by catering content specific to different platforms.
Melbourne's Metro released the video in 2012 and probably never imagined the campaign having such global reach. The fact they successfully transitioned a PSA into a pop culture franchise that now sells plush toys, books and more makes this story so much cooler!
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Creative Director at VideoSparks